How do you write like you're running out of time?

Since the original cast recording of the Broadway sensation Hamilton was released, I've realized through a single line that I completely deserve my middle name (and being named after our "ten dollar Founding Father without a father"):

Song: My Shot
Hamilton: Oh, am I talkin' too loud? Sometimes I get over excited, shoot off at the mouth.

I talk. A lot. Sometimes too much. And sometimes too loud. And the huge majority of the time, too fast and over zealous. I know this about myself and I try to control it when I can, but it's always been a part of me. Maybe that's a Hamilton gene I just can't escape.

The lines that I wish I deserved are these:

Song: Non-Stop
Burr: How do you write like you're running out of time? Write day and night like you're running out of time? /.../ How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you're alive?

I used to be like this. I used to spend hours writing, writing, writing with so many words and stories flowing out of me, nearly falling asleep at an old desktop computer after finishing my homework just so I could keep writing. I filled notebooks with story ideas, titles, paragraphs, pages, whole chapters, character descriptions, themes, anything that had captured my imagination at the time. I wrote like there was no tomorrow, like I needed it as much as air. And a piece of me truly did.

Now, I can go long stretches without writing, and that bothers me. I like writing! I'm doing it right now! I'm a freelance writer for crying out loud! The problem is my old writing habits of fiction, poetry, and personal essays have dwindled. Those are the ones I need to get back to.

Sometimes I blame technology. "If there weren't so much instant free entertainment to distract me, I'd be writing more!" Sometimes I blame my education. "If I hadn't learned so much about writing, I wouldn't be overthinking it, I'd just be doing it!" Sometimes I blame myself. "I'd write more if I just turned off my phone and Netflix and all games and made myself do it!" Sometimes I hate myself. "I procrastinate too much. I'm too afraid of writing something that's not good. Might as well not write anything at all. If I didn't think these things, I'd be writing! Stupid me."

Occasionally, any of these things is true. Back when I could only write with a pen and paper in bed, back when my phone didn't have texting and wifi, way back when I was your age and walked 17 miles in the snow to my typewriter, I wrote more. Back before I learned about making my stories "marketable" and how to use precise structure, I wrote more for pleasure and now have a hard time getting past the "but can I sell this?" mindset. I do procrastinate a lot (some of these posts on here sit for months in the draft folder before being published, and considering how long I've had this website, I should have way more than double the amount of posts - like this post, it's been 5 MONTHS since I started writing it) and I am easily distracted. I need to get more control of that. And I am especially susceptible to impostor syndrome when it comes to my writing and art. Since that's a deeper psychological issue than just willpower, it's a lot harder to control than distractions. 

But I'm finally publishing this post that I began in January (omfg) because it's time to do something about this writing. I'm tired of having this sit here and waiting for the "perfect moment" to publish or putting too much time into editing when really, what matters in this moment is the content, not the fanciful way it was written.

How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive?

Maybe I'll remember soon.

Su-su-STUDIO!

One of my favorite shops has closed and been sold. No longer The Picket Fence, this incredible 100+ year old house is being renovated into an art gallery. Welcome to Malvern, Gallery 222!

The best thing about this amazing pro-artist space is that the four bedrooms on the second floor are all being converted into private art studios. Guess who got the first one?

Mine will be in the room that would have been a nursery way back in the day and was used in the last 20ish years as a beautiful dressing room. With the closet add-ins removed, I can finally see the bones of this space that will be my official creating space. It needs a lot of work, but these pics are from the first demo day! It's already off to a great start.

I am so excited and cannot wait for the floors to get buffed, the walls to be painted, the lights put in, and the key in my hands! Plus, I'll have a fabulous view of the backyard garden, which is going to be an awesome relaxing hang-out spot this summer.

You'll be able to stop by and check out my latest jewelry, mixed media and traditional art, origami flower balls, and more. As always, special orders are my favorites and I love meeting new customers and sharing the process with other artists!

Let's get making things!

Another Death in the Family

I have only cried three times when learning of a celebrity’s death: Nora Ephron, Robin Williams, and David Bowie.

Losing Nora was like losing your favorite aunt. She was the one with a real knack for telling stories about her life that taught you something important and also made you laugh. Aunt Nora wouldn’t sugarcoat it — Harry and Sally were not supposed to end up together because that never happens in real life — but she’d still give you hope that maybe, when it’s the right Harry and the right Sally, it can work. And sometimes fate will lead you from Baltimore to Seattle to the top of the Empire State Building for an improbably beautiful story to tell your grandkids. She made you feel cared for. She talked to you like a real person from the time you were little. You always felt like an equal with Aunt Nora.

Losing Robin was like losing your favorite uncle. He was the one that talked so fast you could barely keep up and had you laughing so hard you’d forget to breathe. Sometimes, he made others uncomfortable with one of his jokes or his personal demeanor, but not you. Not you and your cousins. Uncle Robin was everyone’s favorite uncle, and somehow he made each and every one of you feel like the favorite niece or nephew. He’d remember something funny or important you said quietly to yourself, years ago at an awkward Thanksgiving, when you thought no one was listening. He’d encourage you when you didn’t know you needed encouraging. Uncle Robin smiled at you like he knew a really wonderful secret about you that you hadn’t discovered yet.

Losing David was different. David wasn’t your uncle. David wasn’t your aunt (although on occasions, he may have seemed that way depending on how he dressed). He wasn’t a father, grandfather, brother, son.

David was your second cousin.

He was the one you only met a few times in your life. Second cousins aren’t at every event, but there are special times when you get to meet them. It’s always a little weird, because you know you’re relatives and have very important people in common in your lives, but you barely know each other. You would hear about that “cousin David” from time to time, probably from your parents, saying something like, “Oh, cousin David’s reinventing himself again!” or “David’s gotten into cocaine again,” or “I hear your cousin David’s in a band now.”

You might have been friends on facebook, but you didn’t really talk. He always seemed a bit too cool, too above anything you’d have to say. You didn’t want to bother him with mundane things. Your other relatives might have thought him really weird, but you liked that weirdness. He was bold with his strangeness. And the thing was, on those rare occasions you actually saw him as opposed to just listening to his latest song he posted on his website, you realized he was oddly normal, too.

He was quiet. He preferred laughing at Uncle Robin’s jokes and Aunt Nora’s stories instead of talking about his newest album. David liked to have personal conversations instead of half-assed superficial chitchat with a group. He surprised you in the way that Uncle Robin did by remembering something you had said when you thought no one was listening. It was always something philosophical, something you thought you couldn’t talk about with everyone else. Maybe you couldn’t. But David wanted to talk about it.

Your conversations were always too short because everybody else wanted to talk to him, too. So you’d just stalk his facebook and see what he was up to and listen to his songs and think, “Wow…what a cool person I have in my life.” You couldn’t believe you were related — hell, you couldn’t even believe you were the same species. But there he was, being weird out in the world and being normal with you. That mystery, that strange dichotomy of characters he played, that haunting look on his album cover with the beautiful laugh you remembered from the last family gathering…all of that made you want to get to know him more.

“One day,” you’d think. “One day, I’ll get the guts to go see him. One day, I’ll just be chill and ask to meet up and hang out. One day, I’ll really get to know my cousin David.”

It was always one day.

A lot can happen in one day.

Losing David was hard because there was so much more you wanted to know. There was so much more you wanted to say. It wasn’t fair when you lost Aunt Nora or Uncle Robin. It was shocking and horrible each time. But you didn’t expect this one to be just as shocking and horrible. Some part of you thought your cousin was going to live forever. You couldn’t say why. It was just this gut feeling, this idea that he would always be around — that even though he was older than you, he’d still outlive you by at least a few centuries. 

Maybe he’d leave the world in a spaceship. Maybe he’d shape-shift into another identity. Maybe he’d do something you couldn’t even imagine if you tried. Your weird, somehow famous and somehow normal second cousin David was always going to be extraordinary in everything he did, and then he died in an ordinary way. It didn’t make sense.

Second cousins are strange. They’re family, but they have a lot of different branches on their own family tree. Sometimes they’re people you get to know so well that you don’t consider them any more distant than a first cousin or sibling. Sometimes, they’re people you never get to meet. Even then, a loss is felt. A family member has died.

You go to a bar or maybe just your living room to reflect on that. Family, but non-immediate family, is gone. Aren’t we all non-immediate family in the end?

You ask for or make yourself a custom drink he always had at those rare family gatherings. Or maybe it’s just something that reminds you of him. Or maybe it’s the drink of choice when you’re in a state like this.

Just to yourself, you raise your glass to the man you knew and never knew at the same time, the man who had made you feel acknowledged and appreciated even if it was only for a few moments at a time and you never got to thank him for it, the man whose weirdness let you explore your own, the man you promised yourself you’d get to know and now he’s gone so you listen to all the songs you didn’t listen to before.

Here’s to everyone’s second cousin, David Robert Jones: the man with a lovely and ordinary name with an equally lovely and extraordinary alter ego known as David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Man Who Sold the World, The Man Who Fell to Earth, the Thin White Duke, a piece of a Tin Machine, an Outsider Earthling, The Elder Statesman, and a Starman from a Blackstar, waiting in the sky.

Flailing Helplessly Due to History

I'm a history geek for most things, but some things make me shriek and dance and punch me in the feels more than others.

This is one of those things that reignites the Indiana Jess persona deep inside.

This is a horn carved into a cup, circa 1760 (since that's what's carved into it and has been verified to be from that area), most likely from the Philadelphia area since it was purchased here for a mere $50some by a dude I know who then found out it was legit.

It has freemason symbols carved all over it and it's amazing and I GOT TO HOLD IT SO YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW EXCITING THIS IS.

It's museum-worthy. It's a piece of history. It's handmade and full of mystery.

AND IT'S IN MY HANDS.

All I can do is wonder who carved this? Who owned it? What was their story and where exactly did they live? Were they way out in Chester County or in the city of Philadelphia and this cup somehow ended up out here?

If the original owner was in fact a mason, how far up was in he in the order? Why did he carve the symbols on there? Was this used in ritual or was it just for his own amusement? Why these symbols and what did they mean to him?

The "CHF" inside that ladder-like carving could be a person's initials, a code, a motto, a chapter designation, or something else. What is the story?

I just love things like this. The fact that I actually get to hold this beautiful museum piece in my own hands instead of staring at it through glass is pretty much the coolest thing about this. I am connected to someone who lived 255 years ago. I am touching something they touched and carved and put thought into. They have become a piece of me and I am now a piece of them.

History. Is. Amazing.

Who says I can't do everything?

Everywhere you look online, someone's telling you:

Find your niche!

Know your exact customer!

Focus on one thing and become an expert!

What if I don't want to do any of those things? Why should I focus on one single niche, and a tiny one at that, when I have so many areas and interests and skills at my disposal? How can I possibly know my exact and ideal customer when each one I've met is completely different? My customers & clients are varied, both when it comes to the type of work (like writing vs. decor) and they are varied inside those types (one wants factual articles that read like stories, and another wants press releases, and another wants personal essays, and another...) 

And why, why, why would I focus on just one thing to be an expert? I understand that specializing in certain areas and developing a reputation of expertise is a good thing for some people in specific industries or areas within industries, but why on earth would I give up my writing for jewelry design? And why would I give up making jewelry for illustration? And why stop drawing for gardening?

There's no point giving up things just so I can "brand" myself. And I hate the idea of becoming a "brand" - you know, the new buzzword that everyone likes to throw around in the same articles where they discuss your "niche" and "expertise" and "ideal client". I'm not a brand. I'm me. I'm not a name on a product or service. I'm a human being, a mind-body-soul combination that you are paying for when you hire me. I am an awesome person with a face and a voice and a name that I've had since birth, not since a couple years ago when I got a © or  or  after filling out a bunch of paperwork and sitting around thinking up a good brand name for myself. 

I am Jessica Hamilton Turner: author, artist, amateur archaeologist, jewelry maker and garden raker, crafter of silly rhymes in blog posts, with a so-called brand of Hamiltonian Designs that encompasses everything that is and ever will and could be me

Mad Libs

I really like books that have directions or blanks to fill. I like books that tell me what to do or ask me questions and then want me to write the answers inside of them instead of just babbling on to the next sentence. I've always liked surveys that ask questions other than name, age, sex, race - a.k.a. surveys that aren't standardized tests. And if they ask me opinions or are some sort of personality quiz or writing / art prompt? Cue Stevie Wonder singing, "Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours!"

I have never finished any of those books. I have "read" them countless times, browsing their pages, occasionally filling in a blank here and there, sometimes doing what it says...but more often than not, I ignore their pleas and questions and end up collecting mountains of them. Less-than-half-finished prompting books and thoroughly-read-yet-never-put-into-action books line my shelves and the floor around my bed.

Why is that?

Is it a fear of finishing something? A desire not to have "wrong" answers to certain questions? A worry about running out of space if I write too much and want to add to it later? Or maybe just laziness? Or the excitement of those blanks yet to be filled, brimming with potential?

I really don't know. What I do know is that I'll always be collecting books like these and enjoying every one of them.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Eight months and two weeks ago I left city life, apartment life, and 9-to-5-florescent-lights life behind me to return to the suburbs. And not just the next town over suburbs. I'm talking about 25 miles outside the city suburbs, the kind where the train takes 45-50 minutes to get you downtown.

And I love it.

Growing up in the burbs was great and I didn't think of myself as a city person until college. I fell in love with sidewalks and subways and ease of access to a million different things I couldn't even list if I tried. Moving home for a year post graduation when the economy was in the tank was rough. I was optimistic about my prospects, but an hour away from the city after four years of being a walking personification of the LOVE statue...ugh.

I was obnoxious and found my home to be full of "townies", as if every place doesn't have its "Glory Days" lifers. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go, especially if you didn't have a car. You could walk into the small town, but half of the walk was on a speedy road without sidewalks.

Oh, how I missed those sidewalks.

Then I got the miracle call of a job downtown in my field, and boom! I was a city girl once again! Living in a new neighborhood that gave me a scenic and safe 30 minute walk to work, proximity to great bus lines and affordable shopping...this was the life.

Life changes.

Sometimes, what we think we want isn't what we want at all. Or maybe we do want it, but our opinion and desire dwindles over time. Joining the local swimming pool doesn't make you an Olympian, and taking violin lessons doesn't mean you get to lead orchestras. Most of the time, it's you. You know you don't practice enough or maybe you didn't have enough of the raw talent (Yes, I am of the "you can accomplish anything!" mindset, but come on. You can't be a surgeon if you faint every time you see blood, and you can't run marathons if you have a heart condition that doesn't allow it.) And sometimes, your teacher or coach doesn't really care and if you don't have the means to find another one, the mental anguish can beat you down.

After three and a half years, the city and my industry were both too gray, too noisy, too sad. I still loved many aspects of them, but like a dear friend who's gotten into some stuff you don't agree with, I needed to take a step back. A giant step back. A quit your job without a 100% solid plan or other position lined up kind of step back. A move back to your hometown even though you're expecting the same annoyances step back because at least it's green there instead of gray.

And then I fell in love again.

My town had grown up in such a short time. More businesses popped up and helped each other out. People were actually coming here as a destination instead of just passing through, or, as a local said how it used to be 30 years ago, "avoiding it completely."

There's a big difference between small town life out in the middle of nowhere and small town life that with sprawling neighborhoods and surrounding towns. When you're isolated, it gets weird. No place or person is perfect, but at least when your tiny town is part of a larger whole and is beloved by people from all walks of life, you get the friendliness and diversity of an earnest community instead of glares from the clique known as You're-Not-From-Here-Are-You.

(And the city definitely has its share of multiple You're-Not-From-Here-Are-You cliques, so you need to change attitudes between neighborhoods, between single blocks, between the length of crossing a one-way street.)

I've been incredibly lucky to find fellow locals and small town transplants who stay out of those cliques. They are welcoming, excited to be here, and genuinely concerned for the well being of fellow locals and local businesses, whether or not they are in competition or know them personally. After years of meeting amazing people who end up being Red Riding Hood's wolf in her grandma's clothes, it's nice to walk through the dark woods, get to Grandma's house, and find that it's actually Grandma inside. 

Grandma isn't perfect. She has some outdated ideas and forgets things and really hates the neighbor's cat, but she's comfortable. She's loving. She shares her cookies and wisdom. She has the best dog in the world. She's willing to learn new things and is excited to hear about your journeys - through the woods and beyond. And she wants to help you on any future journey that she can.

Grandma knows she has changed since her youth, for better or worse, and knows that she and everyone around her will continue to change forever. But she smiles and welcomes Change to have tea with you both and you learn a lot.

I went over the river and through the woods and sang some David Bowie along the way, but I made it back to my small town hometown and finally wake up to look out my window and smile.

Blooming

For the first time ever, I participated as a vendor in a craft / art fair! I was accepted into the 2015 Malvern Blooms Festival back in February, and on May 3rd, I got to debut my wares:

Hamiltonian Designs booth at Malvern Blooms 2015

Hamiltonian Designs booth at Malvern Blooms 2015

I am so proud of how it all turned out and incredibly grateful to my amazing mother who helped me set everything up, to my friends who visited my tent, to my boyfriend for supporting me as I crafted my guts out, and to every single person who stopped to admire my work - you are all beautiful rock stars!

DIY or Buy

You see something online that you like. Maybe it's a painting. Maybe it's a sculpture. Maybe it's an article of clothing. Maybe it's a story. No matter what it is, it's for sale, and you look at it and think, "Well, I could do that." And the response from artists everywhere is:

"Yeah, but you didn't."

Hopefully, when you thought that you could do whatever it was, you meant it in a positive hey-that-looks-like-something-I-want-to-try-making way, not the pssh-how-lame-my-kid-could-do-better way. If it's the latter, then it's true. You could, maybe your kid could, but you and your kid didn't do it, so get over it. If it's the former, then welcome to the world of DIY or Buy.

Progesso has a great slogan: Make it Progresso or make it yourself. It's pompous and a flat-out dare, but it's honest. Are you going to make that soup yourself? Are you really going to get some clams and potatoes and cream and make that New England clam chowder yourself? Are you going to make your own little meatballs for your Italian Wedding soup? Maybe you are. Then you're in the DIY camp, and good for you. Then again, maybe you don't have the time or patience or interest or (if you're being honest with yourself) the skills to make it yourself. You're in the grocery store, you reach for the cans of Progresso, and you're in the Buy camp. And that's okay! There is ZERO shame in being in the Buy instead of the DIY. The only shame comes from being in the my-kid-could-do-better camp.

Maybe you're a Buy person when it comes to food but a DIY when it comes to clothes. You could be the opposite. You could jump around from camp to camp depending on mood or topic. The thing to remember about being in the Buy camp is that you are helping the DIY campers survive. Yes, you could go to a specialty bead store and learn how to make jewelry properly and spend hours creating little masterpieces. Or you can buy a handmade necklace from a local artist. Maybe you are that local artist who learned how to make nice jewelry and are trying to make a living. You go DIY for that, but you're going to Buy the bread from the baker sitting next to you at the market. And the baker will buy the eggs from the farmer (because the baker has no patience to raise chickens) and the farmer will buy a new basket from the weaver, and the weaver will decide to spend that money on a nice necklace that you made.

DIY or Buy creates a beautiful cycle of creating and sustaining one another in the tasks and crafts that some love to do and others love to appreciate.

The next time you see something and think "I could do that," then go and do it! Nothing holds you back but yourself - not even a beret-wearing art student smoking outside the university saying "Yeah, but you didn't." And if you don't feel like doing it, then make a purchase. Because the DIYs need the Buys to stay in business, and without the DIYs, the Buys have nowhere to send their money.

And artists of all kinds - the next time you want to say "Yeah, but you didn't" to someone (unless they're truly obnoxious and need a perspective reboot), remember how much time and effort you put into becoming the artist you are now, and especially remember all the things you don't do yourself. You're in the Buy camp for something, and you're supporting someone by being there.

Roots

My first love is traditional art. Digital is wonderful and gives me so many opportunities to work on pieces I wouldn't know how to do with handheld tools, but paints and pencils and papers and their enigmatic scents drive me wild.

I recently moved and had to take down my artwork from my apartment walls in the process. Before gently putting these away, I had to take a shot of two of my favorite explorers: William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. If I could draw their adventures all day, I would.

If only we learned more about them in schools. It's usually a couple days of: "Thomas Jefferson sent these two guys across the country with Sacagawea and they came back and reported on what they saw. Things were tough, but they did a great job." How about the fact that only one person in their team (there were more than just these two guys) died, and that was from appendicitis? Pretty amazing for a multi-year trip across uncharted territory in harsh winters. What about Sacagawea's teenage spirit and interest in joining them? She was pregnant when they met, not carrying the papoose from the get-go like we see in paintings. And why do we never talk about Lewis getting shot in the ass by one of his own men, thinking he was an elk? That's just hilarious.

Lewis and Clark: beautiful derps whose faces I need to draw more.